The 5 New Artists You Need to Know from 2020
For many, the irregularity of 2020 ensured that a few massive changes made the ideal of ‘new’ something to shy away from. A new pandemic, new quarantine orders, a new way of life without so many of the novelties that charm a usual day-to-day. But for music, ‘new’ found new ways to exist in a year that offered more time and more pain to feel passionate about and inspired by. There were a slew of new projects and albums from young artists and veterans. There continues to be a renaissance of socially motivated music and music culture orbiting the Black Lives Matter movement. And a handful of new artists in particular left their signature as a mark of positivity for the future.
There were no young artists that found themselves in more places, doing more work, with a more unique aesthetic than emerging R&B standout, Giveon. The Long Beach baritone has spoken on coming to terms with his one-of-a-kind voice, and it seems as if 2020 was the year not only for Giveon to come to peace with his individuality, but to refine it to a point that made his sound one of the most prominent in music all year. A debut EP, Take Time which earned a Grammy nod, a follow-up EP, When It’s All Said And Done, a feature on Drake’s Chicago Freestyle, and a slew of further work including features, music videos, and what would have been and spot opening on Snoh Aalegra’s tour. Giveon did just about everything he could in 2020. And he did it like no one else.
Technically, the Chicago soulstress released her debut collection in 2017, but only a trickling of singles and features in the time between then and now made her something of a mystery. In 2020, that all changed. With one of the most uniquely crystalline deliveries in music, Aaliyah Allah’s voice is unmistakable. And with a vibrant feature with fellow Chicago star on the rise, HXRY (scroll down), I’ll Be Yours that was included on both artists’ 2020 EP’s, and her Summertime release of 7-track EP, Flux / Flow, she emerged this year with all the promise and R&B experimentalism that she had been hinting at since 2017. Aaliyah Allah will continue to be a unique force on Chicago R&B for the foreseeable future.
Speaking of Chicago, of R&B, of experimentalism, and of I’ll Be Yours, HXRY is a name that any fan of Neo-Soul and the unique directions it can go needs to know. On January 1, we’ll be honest and say we had never heard of him. By February, we were interviewing him about his January release of PIECE OF MIND. And when streaming platforms released their End of Year stats on listenership, ours were littered with his name. A debut project, a slew of further singles, and an auditory aesthetic unparalleled in uniqueness and risks successfully taken with his own production, HXRY is leaving 2020 as one of the most unique examples of self-sufficiency and experimental influence in the realm of modern R&B.
As with anything that happened in music this year, Nashville has earned a spot in the conversation (two spots, in fact, if you keep scrolling). And though we spent much of the year covering the wide-ranging hip-hop underground that is changing the way that creativity and community can coalesce to drive a cultural renaissance, what is hip-hop without R&B? Yours Truly, Jai is one of those vocalists whose sound — rooted in a youthhood of church choir — is as refined as a veteran soulstress. And in 2020, a debut project, Monarch became a must-listen for anyone searching for what the future of R&B may sound like at the hands of emerging Nashville influence.
At the other end of the Nashville spectrum Ron Obasi also became a staple of emerging aesthetics in 2020. His uniquely raspy tone, his unendingly fluid lyricism, and a dominant list of releases and features made him an ever-presence on the scene. Though Sun Tapes — his debut full-length collection is certainly at the center of it all, his 2020 also included Notes on a Scale II — a follow-up to his 2019 EP, and an innumerable list of singes and features throughout the hip-hop and R&B cloth of Nashville’s underground. Defined by uniqueness and effortlessness, his sound is one that never goes unnoticed, and his future as a cornerstone of the emerging Nashville scene is nothing if not bright and sun soaked.
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